New Ideas from the Conference

I hope you didn’t miss the Vancouver conference, and Lemons and Lemonade is just review. The conference was wonderful and profitable for learning, full of great ideas and sharing. The highlights for me were new ideas for cutting material, and they were found in all aspects of the conference.    
One plant I learned more about was Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’, a shrub with yellow foliage that was absolutely outstanding in the pictures. I know purple cotinus foliage can be difficult to hydrate, so this new yellow variety may also have special needs for hydration, but it is just as beautiful as the purple and should be a good cut foliage.
Hibiscus sabdariffa, which made a personal appearance at the at the Design Show, was also a sensation. It has long stems with red pods; be sure to look up the growing information for this plant on the ASCFG bulletin board. I have tried to grow this beautiful pod before, but we just don’t have enough heat in Western Washington to grow it. Growers in zones that can grow okra and cotton should give it a try because it is truly a beautiful cut, I have always looked at it with envy every time I have seen it.
Designer Hitomi Gilliam AIFD loves Gloriosa lilies, which she claims are seldom available, and are so special that she would be willing to pay a premium price for them. I wish I could offer advice on growing these wonderful flowers, but I haven’t had success with them myself. As we walked through the Granville Island Market in the Vancouver harbor, we did see some at one of the flower shops. I didn’t check the price, but they were lovely even though the stems were only about six inches long.
The most amazing flower Hitomi showed us was Tacca integrifolia or bat face flower. She thought it was available on the market, but as far as I know none of the specialty cut flower growers at the conference were growing it. The information I found online showed that it’s tropical and would most likely be greenhouse produced. So if you really want something unique that not just anyone can grow this plant would be it. Hopefully growers will be referred to as the Bat Face Flower Grower, which would be better than the Tacky Flower Grower, I suppose that would depend on marketing it by Latin or common name.
The plant I personally was most excited about was Crocosmia ‘Star of the East’. Wow, was it a knockout! The amazing thing was last spring I bought a small start of this plant, which I planted somewhere around here. Hopefully it is growing and I can propagate it because it was sure nice. I must admit I bought it only because I couldn’t believe there were crocosmias with flowers 3-4 inches across, but the pictures we saw were incredible. It probably isn’t real hardy but should be hardy to Zone 6.    
It’s amazing what you learn at the ASCFG conferences when you’re least expecting it. I was standing at the Johnny’s booth checking out their new introductions when Shu Takikawa from The Garden of …. in Los Olivos, California, told me about a sunflower I just had to grow. It was called ‘Tohoku Yae’. What’s different about it is that is has a big flower surrounded by short, small flowers. Since the short stems were too short to cut, and it was hard to figure out what to do with this sunflower, Shu went right to the source – he called the breeder in Japan. I must admit I was pretty impressed – nothing like getting information right from the source.  
The breeder told Shu that once the center bud is showing, you need to pinch it out and then all the short, smaller blooms open, and you have a whole bouquet on one stem. Shu says the stem has 5 to 12 blooms all open at once. He sells them for $5.00 per stem at the farmers’ market, and retails for $3.50 to florist who buy 75 to 100 stems at a time. He says this sunflower has excellent germination. He direct sows in the field, and he used to put three seeds per hole but now he just plants one because they germinate so well. This is his favorite sunflower, and the one he grows the most of. While I was not looking for any new sunflowers, after visiting with Shu even I became enthused about trying this new cultivar.
It was nice to have a renewal of ideas and fun things to grow, because sometimes I think there is just nothing new left out there to try. All the catalogs are the same, year after year. Yes there are new varieties of this and that, but they just don’t make the same impact on our customers as Tacca or Cotinus ‘Golden Spirit’ or Gloriosa lilies will make.      
If you missed the conference you missed out on a wealth of information that this short review doesn’t begin to touch, and who knows what someone might have whispered to you that would make your business better.